There is a secret, one that nobody is prepared to talk about, one so shocking that it may bring down society as we know it. Am I talking about a scandal or some sort of political corruption? Am I talking about some secret society that rules over us, or perhaps am I talking about the fact that we are all aliens from outer space? While I would infinitely prefer to talk about any of these things, I am in fact talking about the truth that, literally, nobody is talking about. I am talking about the fact that people with mental illness walk among us.
I hear your gasps and signs: “Not this again,” “Haven’t we already talked about this?” and trust me, I hear you. In essence you are right; people with mental illness are no longer labeled as crazy or psychos, and that’s great; it really is. But the sad truth is, we’re not being talked about as real people, either. We are not seen as human beings who happen to have various conditions, but we are in fact seen as the embodiment of the conditions themselves. I suffer from depression and yet many people feel obliged to tell me that I “am” depression. How would you feel if I said that you “were” varicose veins or you “were” diabetes?
The fact is that while people with mental illness are not often talked about badly anymore, it seems we are just, quite simply, not talked about in any meaningful way. I see people putting posts on Facebook all the time, with one off little comment on how they’ve struggled, and that’s great; more power to them. But these are just fleeting moments of support that quickly fizzle and burn out. There is no substance to them.
More and more people are talking to their families about mental illness, which is amazing; but let’s be honest; would you tell your work colleagues or your friends?
Then there are all those types of illnesses we talk about. While we are all aware that there are people with anxiety or depression, it appears that illnesses like psychotic disorders (i.e., eating and personality disorders) are to be exempt from this feeling of understanding and tolerance. It shocks me that, even in 2019, the only time I read about these types of illnesses are either in sensational articles or articles about violence and murder. Many celebrities are willing to come forward in support of anxiety and depression, but only a handful will come forward to support ‘unpopular’ illnesses.
And that’s another point: do celebrity endorsements really help? While it gets the word out there, and spreads the message of tolerance, it also makes mental illness seem a far off thing, only to be worried about by the rich and famous who don’t really walk among us. Well, they do.
Then there are the prejudices of mental health services themselves. Those who have suffered with an eating disorder can tell you it isn’t all about weight. Yet eating disorder services have to give out their resources on — guess what — weight criteria, leaving anyone who isn’t severely underweight feeling lost and abandoned.
I’m not saying we’re not talking at all. Some people with mental illness are proactive but many are afraid to get the word out, out of fear and stigma. Maybe if we talked more we would find people are more tolerant than we think. This is not supposed to be a rant. It is supposed to be a message that what we say is important and can make a huge difference.
People are more than happy to talk about their success in recovery, but very few will talk about the constant risk of relapse or their bad days. This gives the wrong message that mental illness is something to be overcome rather than lived with. There is a lot out there in the world, a lot of noise, but I wonder if we cut through the politics and media hype, we may find out that just talking might help.
So the next time you are out at the pub or about to make a Facebook post; next time you go shopping with friends or stop for a chat on lunch break, just remember this piece and maybe try to talk about it. You never know; you just might be surprised.